Roots in Diffa: Seeking Solace from Conflict

Children from the Fulani tribe at one of the aid distribution sites in Diffa. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

In 2015, the Boko Haram insurgency sweeping northern Nigeria reached the Diffa region of southern Niger, leading to the displacement of more than 250,000 people. However, even before 2015, Boko Haram had carried out some attacks in the region. In the wake of this crisis, people from across the border in Nigeria, and internally displaced people within Niger, sought refuge in Diffa town. What was, at first, an emergency slowly transitioned into a more permanent situation, and people have since made Diffa town their home.

Lumo doesn’t know how old she is, but she believes she was born during the ‘dark wind’ — a year sometime in the early 1960s famous for a dark wind that engulfed the region. When famine hit back in 2005, she left her native Niger to look for better life opportunities in neighbouring Nigeria. Ten years later, together with her brother Tambaia, she decided to come back to Niger and settle in Diffa town. Lumo and Tambaia are two of almost 15,000 returnees living in the Diffa region right now.

Lumo and Tambaia in front of their shelter at one of the aid distribution sites in Diffa. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Haoua is the president of the Fulani community within the emergency site where Lumo lives. More than 20 years ago, when her village started facing water problems and animals started dying, Haoua decided to leave for Nigeria, as well. Then, the night her village in Nigeria got attacked by Boko Haram, she dropped everything and walked for five hours in search of safety. Once back in Niger, she found some of her relatives and other community members in Diffa. “There are people I never heard from again. I sometimes wonder if they are still alive,” she recounted. Together with her grandchildren, Haoua now lives in an emergency shelter in Diffa town.

“There are people I never heard from again. I sometimes wonder if they are still alive.” — Haoua.
“There are people I never heard from again. I sometimes wonder if they are still alive.” Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

When the crisis hit the Diffa region in 2015, immediate assistance was vital, and one of the obvious responses for humanitarian agencies was to provide emergency shelters for the displaced communities. As the crisis continued, people settled in and made Diffa their home. To cope with the new circumstances IOM, the UN Migration Agency, launched its first pilot site of transitional shelters this year. The new shelters are made out of locally produced bricks and aluminium, and have a life span of more than two years (as opposed to six months for the emergency shelters). The bricks were produced by the internally displaced people living on the site, under the guidance of a local freemason.

The Maina Kaderi site is comprised of over 400 households amounting to more than 3000 people. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

The Maina Kaderi site, in the commune of Chetimari in the Diffa region, is comprised of over 400 households — or roughly 3,000 people. Initially built as a site for emergency shelters, the site underwent a complete makeover in early 2018 when 400 transitional shelters were built from scratch. Thanks to the mayor of the Chetimari commune, every household now proudly owns a 200 square meter parcel of land on the Maina Kaideri site. Along with land and shelter, each household received a non-food item kit upon arrival.

In 2018, over 17,000 people were assisted by IOM in Diffa with shelter and non-food items. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Kinadi, her 11-year-old daughter Fanna and her seven-year-old granddaughter Aissa live in one of the new transitional shelters built by IOM. She had to leave her native Nigerien village Geidam Tchoukou in 2014, and look for shelter elsewhere. Following Boko Haram attacks and massive floods in the region, the authorities asked them to move as a preventive measure. However, not everyone in her family was keen on leaving. Her eldest child, Aissa’s mother, decided to stay back, but Kinadi feared for the children’s safety so she took her granddaughter along to Diffa.

Kinadi with her daughter, Fanna, 11, and granddaughter Aissa, 7. Theylive in one of the new transitional shelters built by IOM. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Ina is one of Maina Kaderi site’s community members and the proud owner of a transitional shelter. Ina shares her household with her four grandchildren while her daughter Zara, 25, shares another house with her husband and new born. Just like Kinadi, she left her village in 2015 ago as a preventive measure, when she heard about Boko Haram attacks in the region where she was living. “Conditions have improved a lot on the site thanks to the transitional shelters. We feel settled now,” Ina said cheerfully.

“Conditions have improved a lot on the site thanks to the transitional shelters. We feel settled now.” — Ina
“Conditions have much improved on the site thanks to the transitional shelters. We feel settled now.” — Ina Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Four different actors have been operating in Maina Kaderi site since the end of 2017, building different structures ranging from shelters to latrines. The site is a small community in the making. Most of its residents come from the same villages and they have tried to recreate their previous communities on the new site. In order to ensure the sustainability of their livelihoods on the new transitional site, IOM has also implemented 400 income-generating activities for the community members.

During the initial profiling phase upon their arrival on the site, IOM staff determined the type of activity the residents could excel at, and would be interested in, through focus group discussions and surrounding-markets assessments. Following this evaluation process, site residents were allowed to choose from 38 types of activities currently in place on the site, ranging from livestock breeding to peanut oil extraction. These activities aim to meet the daily needs of their households and to turn them autonomous in this situation of prolonged crisis.

he new site offers up to 38 types of income generating activities for more than 600 households. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Bagale was one of the 44 people to choose livestock breeding as his income source. “It’s an investment, but it’s not only about raising and selling animals. I lend my animals to people who have chosen agriculture as their main activity,” he said. His friend, Boudji, has been living on the site with his wife and five children for the past three years. He decided to open a small boutique catering to the basic needs of the community. “There are five other boutiques, but everyone has their favourite,” laughed Boudji.

“The business is going well alhamdulillah!” — Boudji

In 2018, IOM provided over 17,000 people with materials to build shelters and other essential aid items. Their living conditions have improved since, but over 129,000 displaced people are still in need of assistance in the region, while over 170,000 people are at risk of displacement because of floods this rainy season.

Ina with three of her grandchildren and her daughter Zara at the Maina Kaderi site for transitional shelters. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

IOM has been distributing shelter and other aid items to the most vulnerable populations in Diffa since 2013. To support the humanitarian coordination, IOM also supports the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Management of Disasters in the coordination of the Shelter/NFI working group. IOM’s humanitarian emergency response in Diffa is supported by the Austrian Development Cooperation and the U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.


This story was written by Monica Chiriac, Public Information Officer at IOM Niger in the lead up to World Humanitarian Day, 19 August 2018.

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